The ongoing India-China border dispute turned deadly on Tuesday after 20 Indian soldiers, including a senior army officer, were killed by Chinese troops in the Himalayan region, the Indian army confirmed.

Indian “Army has lost one officer and 19 soldiers in a violent face off, newspaper Indian Express reported on Tuesday.

“17 Indian troops who were critically injured in the line of duty at the standoff location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high altitude terrain have succumbed to their injuries,” Indian Army said in a statement. This brings the total number of Indian casualties to 20.

There were reports of casualties on the Chinese side, but Beijing hasn’t released any details so far.

“Based on what I know, Chinese side also suffered casualties,” tweeted the editor-in-chief of Chinese newspaper Global Times, a Communist Party mouthpiece. The deaths were the result of hand-to-hand combat.

It was unclear if shots were fired during the incident, media reports said.

The tensions between the two nuclear-armed powers escalated last month after Chinese troops crossed into the Indian border in the northern Himalayan region of Ladakh. China occupied around sixty square kilometers of Indian territory during the incursion, Indian officials say. Recent satellite imagery showed massive build-up by China’s People Liberation Army (PLA) along the border.

Indian newspaper The Hindustan Times reported the details of the deadly clash on Tuesday:

The Indian army suffered multiple casualties, including that of an officer, in a “violent face off” with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on Monday night in eastern Ladakh, the army said in a statement. It added that there were casualties on both sides.

These are the first Indian casualties in a clash with the PLA since 1975 when an Indian patrol was ambushed by Chinese troops in Arunachal Pradesh.

[Hindustan Times] learns that the officer is the commanding officer of the unit involved in the scrap, and that one of the other casualties is that of a JCO.

The army said the incident took place at a time the de-escalation process was “underway in the Galwan valley”. (…)

All the deaths are from thrown stones and rods that were used by the soldiers, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity. The army did not comment on this. However, this won’t be the first time the two armies have engaged in fisticuffs or used stones as missiles to attack each other in the area.

In the war of 1962, China took large parts of Indian territory in that same region. Despite China’s continued demands for India to surrender more areas, the two countries have not gone to war ever since. This is the first deadly clash between the two countries in 45 years.

China blamed India for the deadly confrontation. The Indian side was guilty of “provoking and attacking Chinese personnel, resulting in serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday.

The incident took place a day after China’s Communist Party mouthpiece threatened India for supporting the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and building better economic ties with Taiwan, an independent country which Beijing treats as a breakaway province.

“The Indian government is expected not to let such negative sentiment sabotage China-India relations and intensify the two countries’ disputes.” the Communist Party-run Global Times warned in an editorial on Monday.

The United States has backed India in the face of recent Chinese aggression. Last month, Ambassador Alice Wells, the senior U.S. diplomat for South and Central Asia, called Communist China’s behavior towards India provocative and disturbing.

(Update: Indian causality figures revised from three to 20 based on official Indian statement)

[Cover image via YouTube]


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